Body Language for Women to Lead
By: Khaulah Abbas, Founder of Your Professional Presence
Presence - you know it when you see it but somehow can’t pinpoint it. Presence is how you are perceived by others. It’s a combination of traits such as your appearance, your body language, your poise and communication skills.
Research shows that leaders are evaluated on two things: warmth/approachability and power/confidence. This is especially difficult for women because when they show dominance and power, they are described as pushy, bossy, or too masculine. And when women show too much empathy, they are viewed as weak or too emotional.
Women who are able to balance these two aspects are seen as better leaders. Much of these can come from nonverbal and body language behavior. With simple awareness of what to avoid and how practice confident body language behaviors, women can control some aspects of how they are perceived.
Here are 6 tips to keep in mind to improve your leadership perception.
Power and authority are demonstrated through height and space. Traditionally and still ongoing today, women are taught to be nurturing, kind and quiet. We are taught to sit elegantly on a corner of the chair, keep our hands in our laps, elbows tucked into our waist.
To show confidence and status, take up space: sit tall, feet on the ground, elbows on the arm rest, spread your laptop, coffee cup and other items neatly around rather than stacking them on top of each other.
Head tilting is seen as a feminine and more submissive gesture. Subconsciously, it’s a sign that you are listening and interested in the conversation – you are, literally, giving your ear. When used in situations that require empathy, this is the time to do so.
In the workplace, when giving direction or want an action to be taken, it’s best to keep your head straight. You will be seen as more confident and authoritative by your colleagues and clients.
Nodding Too Much
Women tend to be more empathetic than men and therefore nod more as a sign of agreement, congeniality or encouragement. However, too much nodding can have a bobble head effect - detracting from the image of confidence and authority that you want. While it can show friendliness, it can also show signs of being a pushover and this is perception that will be challenging to change later on.
Nodding is good when you want to show agreement with what the person you are speaking with is saying; however, limit it to two to three nods and use it cautiously during conversations.
Smiling Too Much
Women tend to give away a great amount of their power by over-smiling because we want to be seen as kind, something we are taught at a young age. However, over smiling can affect credibility and gravitas, resulting in the perception of a weaker leader. For example, if you are delivering bad news and smiling at the same time, people will question your authenticity.
Smiles are encouraged at the appropriate time and place. When first meeting someone, at the beginning of a meet or when you are genuinely pleased with a result.
Hair Twirling And Face Touching
Hair twisting and twirling is a very feminine gesture. Throughout history, it is a sign used to attract another person, to bring attention to the face. Hair twisting and touching the face, neck or jewelry are pacifying gestures that women do often, especially when feeling nervous or unsure. These behaviors can cause women to be seen as less powerful.
To elevate your confidence and trustworthiness, use your hands to reinforce your words. Showing your palms may increase people’s trust in you and using the steeple gesture (brining your fingertips together while palms apart) shows you as more confident and commanding.
Your Tone Sets the Stage
Research shows that people with lower pitched voices are seen as more authoritative with better response from others. For instance, news anchors tend to speak in a lower tone How you breathe and from where you project your voice are the points of focus to keep in mind. It isn’t about changing your voice, rather to be more mindful of the tone in which you speak to get the right message delivered.Today, it has become a popular way to speak with an upward inflection or up-speak. While it may sound more playful, it sounds like a question rather than a statement, resulting in you sounding unsure of what you are saying. It will also lower others’ perception of your confidence and competence as well as their attention span.